Wednesday, March 2, 2011 myBiz Blog
Alumni Corner: Catching Up With…Jesse Davis by Carly Miller

Jesse Davis has been creating business start ups for as long as he can remember. A self described “serial entrepreneur,” he started a snow shoveling business while in grade school, then moved on to running a food stand at the local little league field, and turned a love for cooking into a catering business in high school. “Suddenly I realized I was making way more money doing something I really loved than my friends who were working in hourly jobs they complained about,” he explained.

That passion for entrepreneurship traveled with the Newton, Massachusetts native when he moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the fall of 2005 to begin his studies at UW-Madison with a goal of obtaining a business degree. Sophomore year he began working for a couple of his fraternity brothers who had a business, “College Coolers” that delivered water cooler systems to students across campus. Brought on to streamline the supply chain process, Davis eventually bought out the owners and proceeded to give the company a technological face lift – creating a new website with an online ordering and payment system. Davis recorded $50,000 in sales his first year which grew to $100,000 in his second.

Davis said he was fortunate to be admitted to the Wisconsin school of Business (WSoB) the same year they created the Entrepreneurship Option in the Management and Human Resources major. “Becoming involved in the entrepreneurship program made my experience at the WSoB even better,” he explained. “The entrepreneurship classes were fantastic in that they provided a great breeding ground for the cross pollination of ideas from students across campus.” Davis was also able to complete an independent study under Professor Phil Kim to research the feasibility of franchising College Coolers – a plan that Davis still hopes to implement one day.

Today Davis, 23 is in Santiago, Chile running Entrustet, a virtual asset estate planning company he co-founded with Nate Lustig in 2008 when they were both students at UW-Madison. Entrustet, which provides an automated system for storing passwords and instructions for all digital assets in the event of death, began as a business plan named Virtuwill, which Davis and Lustig entered into the WSoB Burrill Business Plan Competition in 2009. The pair took home the People’s Choice award that year.

Davis got the idea for the company while reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman which tells the story of Justin Ellsworth, a U.S. Marine who was killed in action in Iraq. Justin’s parents wanted access to his Yahoo! account after his death and Yahoo! refused. His parents sued and a judge ordered Yahoo! to grant email access to his parents. “All of a sudden it hit me that digital assets were ‘real’ and an essential part of an estate,” said Davis. “It also made me wonder if I’d want any one in particular to have access to my email account when I die, or whether I’d want it deleted altogether.” Davis never finished reading the book. Instead, he set to work on creating Entrustet. Through WSoB Business Law Professor Joe Boucher, Davis connected with fellow student entrepreneur Nate Lustig, who had already launched his own business, Exchange Hut – an online student-to-student classified network.

Davis recalls working sporadically on the Entrustet business prototype with Lustig in open classrooms in Grainger. “We would sneak into empty classrooms to use their whiteboards only to be kicked out by the incoming professor (who demanded to know where his markers were) and then move on to the next classroom down the hall,” he recalled.

Entrustet formally launched in March 2010, when Davis and Lustig were invited to speak at the “South by Southwest Conference” in Austin, Texas where many successful internet companies, including Foursquare have started. Media attention followed with Entrustet mentioned or featured in New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Fox Business, The Washington Post, Wired, Fox Business, Tech Crunch and more.

The nice thing about Entrustet Davis says, is that it can be run from anywhere. Today Davis and Lustig are running Entrustet in a business incubator, Start-Up Chile. In an effort to spur entrepreneurship there, the Chilean government offered 25 start-up companies $40,000 and office space for six months to operate in Chili. Davis and Lustig won one of the 25 coveted spots by combining a love of cooking into their video application.

While the pair found their time in Chili to be a rewarding experience, they are excited to return to their Madison office in May to reconnect with the city they miss. Davis already has plans to continue a successful internship program he started last summer for UW students. He also renewed his involvement with Capital Entrepreneurs, a Madison-based group of 65 start-up companies he founded.

Davis is living proof that a university of 40,000 students is a powerful entity with amazing resources. “No one is going to hold your hand here, but all you have to do is scratch the surface to unleash more resources than you can believe. My professors and classmates were very supportive of me and my endeavors. Today’s students have those same resources available to them if they only look for them,” he said.